Tag Archive | "child molestation"

Precious Cargo

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As precious gifts, children are meant to be cherished.  Innocent human beings, they look to their elders for life’s basic necessities and, just as importantly, guidance, love, and protection.  These truths should be obvious.  It boggles my mind, then, when I witness mindless acts that place little ones in danger.

Driving down a busy commercial street the other day, I yielded to jaywalkers.  The ones I truly wanted to throttle darted across the street encumbered by baby strollers and dragging toddlers by the hand.  Were their errands vital enough to put the children’s lives in jeopardy?  Most drivers strive to be vigilant, but accidents do happen, particularly when thoughtless parents and guardians facilitate them.  It takes a few extra minutes to wait at the crosswalk while the traffic light changes, but those minutes can mean life or death.

There are times when those behind the wheel are at fault; drunken drivers fall into this category.  Three sheets to the wind, DWIs rarely seem to injure themselves.  As police reports nationwide attest, the drunks usually maim or kill those who are blameless.  Kids riding along with inebriated adults are at risk, and so are those in other cars.  I was once acquainted with a woman I thought to be a bit slow.  She was a very nice lady, but I sensed that there was something not quite right about her.  A few weeks after our first meeting, her niece informed me that the woman’s entire family had been riding in their car, obeying the rules of the road, when a drunk driver struck them.  The woman and her husband survived, but her father and two little boys — her only children — were killed.  What a terrible heartache to bear!

Alcohol is not the only addiction plaguing youngsters.  Drug users have been known to keep their stashes where curious young hands can get to them, resulting in irreparable damage and even death. 

And let’s not forget people who leave their children unattended in public places.  Where I work, I often see customers who dash from their cars and into the store, leaving their children behind to make a quick purchase.  Their frantic glances through the store window are not enough to ensure the children’s safety. It’s an inconvenience to remove the little ones from their car seats and secure them again. But it’s better to be inconvenienced than to lose a child to a kidnapper, child molester, or murderer.

A woman I know was once vacationing at the shore with her family.  She had fallen asleep under her umbrella, as had her family.  As the others slept on, she suddenly awakened with a strange, urgent feeling.  The moment that she sat up, a little boy about three years old passed her, carrying a child’s surfboard and heading straight for the ocean.  No adult was following him.

She took after the boy as he toddled on relentlessly, catching up with the child just as he put his board into the water.  Unable to swim, she prayed to find the right words that would bring the boy back onto the sand.  Thankfully, her prayers were answered.  She had planned to alert the police once the child was safe with her family.  But just a few steps before her beach blanket, an angry man appeared, barking at the child — as if it were his fault — “So there you are!”  Cautiously, the woman asked the little boy, “Do you know this man?” “Daddy,” he said, and walked off with the man.  Badly shaken, the lady wondered what may have befallen the little boy had she not been a good person.

Those of us who have fond memories of our childhoods may not be fully aware of the dangers that lie in wait for our children.  In days gone by, parents thought nothing of allowing their children to stay out late, particularly on summer nights, riding bikes and catching fireflies with their friends.  Neighbors once knew each other, communicating frequently and keeping a watchful eye on for each other’s children. Now we live at a frantic pace, in a world that has necessitated the passage of Megan’s Law and the institution of Amber Alerts.

If you are a parent or guardian, teach your children not to approach strangers, no matter how sweet their bribes may be (i.e., promises of candy or a lost puppy that needs to be found). And don’t make assumptions that routine situations are necessarily safe.

For instance, don’t allow a child visit a public restroom alone.  Predators armed with changes of clothing and scissors to cut hair can quickly alter a child’s appearance in order to spirit him or her away.  Young children cannot fend off adults intend upon snatching them and doing them harm.

Strangers are not the only threat.  Before giving your children permission to play at a friend’s house, get to know the friend’s parents.  Be sure that they are aware your child will be visiting or spending the night.  Most importantly, feel the parents out to get a sense of their character.  You don’t want your children in a home where drugs, alcohol, and/or guns are accessible. 

If someone else takes your child to the beach, remember the incident that I just related about the woman and the little boy.  Make sure that lifeguards are on duty, that the adults know how to swim, and that they don’t take chances when the tide comes in.  Water safety extends to the home.  Baths for young children should be supervised at all times.  Don’t leave a child in the tub alone, for it only takes a minute to drown in a few inches of water.

Also, be sensible in terms of your selection of toys, games, and general recreation.  As much as a child may desire a toy or wish to engage in a pastime, veto it if it is dangerous or inappropriate. Establishing and enforcing rules for your child’s protection is a key element in good parenting.  Scrapes and cuts are the byproducts of a normal childhood spent exploring the world; everyday accidents are often inevitable.  But, with caution and common sense, terrible tragedies can be avoided. 

Things My Parents Told Me

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Given the state of the world, I think that children of all ages would be prudent to revisit some of the core lessons that our parents taught us when we were younger.  If you were like me, you probably sloughed off much of this advice and only took it to heart when your parents’ fears were either realized or had inched too close to realization for comfort.

One of the most important things we learned was not to talk to strangers.  When I was a child, I had to hear about the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, that occurred before I was born, and how that infant came to a terrible end.  To ward off kidnappers, my parents drummed it into me not to speak with strangers, not to accept gifts from them, and to run like my pants were on fire if a stranger ever tried to nab me or drag me into his/her car.

These days, we need to tell our children not to listen to strangers who tell them that they’ve lost their puppy and need help finding him: a common ploy with child molesters and killers.   We must also tell our kids not to get into the vehicles of strangers who appear at school at 3 o’clock and lie about knowing our parents.  These kidnappers and child molesters often use the tactic of telling children that one of their parents has been hospitalized, and they (the strangers) are there to ferry the kids off to the hospital.

In general, we should alert our children that if an adult ever makes them feel uncomfortable, for any reason, they are to follow their gut feelings.  This includes adults who may touch them in an inappropriate manner.  If in danger, it’s best to educate the child to scream “Fire!” because people will always want to see where the fire is.  Unfortunately, if a child hollers, “Help!” it can be construed as a game or a ploy for attention.  “Call the police!” is another helpful phrase to scream out when in danger.  And if the adult tries to drag the child into the car or do something else harmful, the child should be told that it’s okay to kick and bite and scratch the adult, punch him in the eye, and/or whatever else is necessary in order to escape.  All of these lessons can also be applied to adults who may be preyed upon by twisted, malicious souls.

“Look both ways when before crossing the street” was another important conversation that I used to have with my parents.  Even at formal pedestrian crosswalks, we still have to pay attention to discern when it is safe to cross the street.  Cars jump sidewalks; motorists run red lights and play “chicken” with the yellow lights.  Some even drive backward or the wrong way down the street!  I have had people just about jump out in front of me when I’m driving, especially in the parking lots of shopping malls.  Parents can get distracted with thoughts of big sales, thus taking their eyes off their children for those critical few moments.  So, children should be taught pedestrian safety.

“Choose your friends wisely” is yet another caveat I received from my elders.  This was good advice.  Think about it.  How often have you thought a friend of yours could do no wrong, only to learn that they would throw you under the bus in a minute, if a need to do so arose on their part?  It takes discernment that comes with maturity to determine whether or not your friend is genuine and loyal.  For instance, I had been friends with one girl since the second grade, but in our sophomore year of high school, she abandoned me for another girl.  They became tight because they both wanted a more lively social life, while I was not quite ready to date boys at that particular juncture in my life.

My friend’s betrayal hurt, but her behavior did not put me in jeopardy. That came later, with another friend who left me at a club without a ride home.  We had gone to this club, in her car.  As there was not much excitement in our little town, once a month, we’d drive about 40 miles to this little club.  We weren’t big on drinking; we just enjoyed the dancing and music and maybe the chance of meeting a guy.  Well, one night, my friend hooked up with a young man and they decided to go elsewhere for a while.  She told me that she would return to give me a ride home.

Close to closing time, I began to get nervous.  There was no sign of my friend, and because it had been cold, I had left my coat in the trunk of her car.  Stranded forty miles from home, I had no choice but to call a taxi. Thank goodness he let me run into my house to get some money to pay him when we arrived, because I did not have enough cash on me.  Boy, was my dad mad!

Shortly after I arrived home, my friend came to the house, crying and apologizing profusely.  We are still friends today, but I was leery for a while there whenever we got together.  After that incident, I always made sure that I had a couple of extra dollars in my pocket, in case of an emergency.  So that’s another lesson for children: carry some extra cash and call someone responsible, if you need help.  This is sound advice for adults as well.

Kids will be kids, and kids like to experiment with things they shouldn’t, including alcohol, drugs, and sex.  Filching a cold beer from the fridge at home and enjoying it within your own four walls is a lot different than acquiring fake ID, buying a bottle of booze, and downing it.  The only thing worse is getting behind the wheel when you do, or entering a car in which the driver is three sheets to the wind.  A motor vehicle weighs a ton or more and that’s a lot to control when you’re sober; the mind and body have to be in sync, able to respond quickly to unforeseen situations.  Don’t drive with a person who is a speed demon or likes to play “chicken” with other drivers!

Speaking of drinking, young people now need to be on the lookout for date rape drugs slipped into their drinks at private parties and local bars.  Never go club hopping alone; take along a trusted friend who will watch your back and you do the same for her.

Smoking is another very critical choice for a young person to make, and it should be made on an individual basis, not because of peer pressure.  Smoking is not cool.  You’ll reek of smoke and that is simply not attractive.  If you kiss someone, you’ll taste of smoke — a real turnoff to non-smokers.  It’s an addiction and will cost you a lot of money, your health, and potentially, your life.

Other, illegal addictions involve recreational drugs.  Please educate your children as to the associated dangers, including degenerated brain cells and even death.  Kids who lie about their addictions are only lying to themselves; eventually, others will catch them in their lies.

Sex is probably the most difficult topic for a parent to broach with their children.  At the age of nine, a friend of mine borrowed two books from the library: one for girls and one for boys.  She wanted to be sure that the boys weren’t learning anything that she wasn’t!  Both books were straightforward volumes on sex, written for young people.  When her mother, who simply could not answer her questions about sex, saw the books, she let out a dramatic sigh of relief and immediately instructed my friend’s younger sister to read the exact same books!

As much as parents may drum the idea of abstinence into a child’s head, there will always be curious kids who want to see what all the fuss is about.  A parent’s best bet is to be realistic and proactive.  Education is key, but it won’t mean much if your kid is in a situation where he or she would be a lot more comfortable — and safer — with a condom.  The best protection against an unwanted pregnancy is a prescription for birth control, but condoms should also be used to prevent STD’s (Sexually Transmitted Diseases).  While parents may not be happy knowing that their children are having sex, everyone will breathe easier if they take Ben Franklin’s advice: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Girls should be told not to believe a boy who says he wants to engage in sex so that he’ll know she really does love him.  Love does not apply pressure.  Boys should be taught that they will be held accountable for their actions, including getting young girls pregnant.  They can’t be allowed to think that they’ll “get off easy” by not marrying the girl; they or their parents might be liable for child support.  And if the girl was underage, the boys — particularly 18 years of age and older — can find themselves up on charges of statutory rape.

In addition to a host of external dangers, safety within the home is also a great concern.  While many children are “latchkey kids” who arrive home when their parents are working, they are still children.  They should be taught to lock all doors and windows and not answer the doorbell under any circumstances, unless they ascertain that the person ringing it is someone familiar and trusted.  The “familiar and trusted” category does not include utility workers or those peddling magazines or other products or services door to door.  How well we remember the horrible case of several years ago, where a teenager, known to the child, was allowed into the house on the pretext of selling something for a school competition.  The teenager murdered the poor, unsuspecting child! 

If children must answer the door, they should never allow a stranger access to the house.  They can speak to the person behind a locked door or call their parents.  The best tactic is for the child not to alert the stranger that no adult is present.  The kid can say that their mom or dad is in the shower and the stranger will have to come back later (meaning, when the parents are actually home).

Parents who trust their children to be home alone for short periods of time can check on them via text messages, phone calls, or emails.  Or, kids who are told to not answer the telephone can have a signal; i.e., letting the phone ring three times to flag that it’s a parent calling and that they will call right back.  Another alternative is for parents to leave a message on their answering machines, telling callers that they will return the calls shortly.  This is a good way of not advertising that a child is home alone.

Safety is for every person, not just children.  As adults, we must remember to secure all entrances and exits to our domiciles, to keep our keys and cell phones handy if we are working in the garden, and to ensure that all the doors and windows are locked even if we are in our own backyards grilling.  Long Island, New York has been plagued by home burglaries over the past several years and the robbers are getting increasingly bolder and more inventive.

I know a woman who stepped out of her shower wearing only a bathrobe, who watched as two men broke into her home through the garage; it all happened in the blink of an eye.  She grabbed her cell phone, ran into her baby’s room, locked the door, and called 911.  The cops came immediately and caught the bastards ransacking the house, but she and her baby were lucky.  These weasels broke in during broad daylight, so it pays to be extra vigilant.  If, for instance, your home has a large sliding glass door, install a bar inside the door and engage it at night for extra security.

Don’t take chances when it comes to safety.  While we find it tiresome to hear lectures, we have to understand they are often for our own good.   It truly is better to be safe than sorry.   By following a few simple and logical rules, “we’ll all sleep safe tonight,” as the song Kryptonite goes.

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